While there is plenty more to ILLINOIS than just the Windy City, much of the cultural and social identity of this state revolves around Chicago, the largest and most exciting city in the Great Lakes region. Perched in the state’s northeastern corner, on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago has a fabulous skyline, plus top-rated museums, restaurants and cafés, and dozens of nightspots that send forth blues, jazz and rock into the night. Seventy-five percent of the state’s twelve-million-strong population lives within commuting distance of the Windy City. The contrast between Illinois’ quiet rural hinterlands and its buzzing urban centre could hardly be greater.

Illinois was first explored and settled by the French, though in 1763 the territory was sold to the English. Granted statehood in 1818, Illinois remained a distant frontier until the mid-1830s; only once the native Sauk were subjugated, after a series of uprisings, did settlers arrive in sizeable numbers. Among them were the first followers of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, who established a large colony along the Mississippi at Nauvoo. The Mormons met with suspicion and persecution and, after Smith was murdered by a lynch mob in 1844, fled west to Utah. Other early immigrants included the young Abraham Lincoln, who practised law from 1837 onward in Springfield. Now the state capital, it is home to a wide range of Lincolniana, including his restored home, his law offices and various other period buildings and artefacts, as well as his monumental tomb and a new Presidential Library and Museum. Despite the claims of other nearby states, Illinois maintains that it is truly the “Land of Lincoln”.

Read More